Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cape Blanco

I'm fighting the blues. Stress, excessive busyness, poor health, and loneliness are all taking their toll. I don't mean to whine at y'all. Life is what it is, and, by God's grace, mine has more good than bad any day of the week, but I definitely need to focus on something other than "right now" right now. So, I decided to cheer myself up by photo-blogging a trip from this summer that was completely lovely and such a good memory that it can't help but make me feel better. Some memories are able to do that, you know? As an also-stressed friend put it, the pictures of these good and memorable times "can serve as proof that we have a life." Well, I could really use some proof that I have a life, so here goes. If you want to stroll through my cheerful memories with me, then stick around for a while.

In late July, Ked and I went camping at Cape Blanco State Park with some good friends, and discovered a whole new world of coastal beauty. Cape Blanco is near Port Orford, Oregon, and is home to a great old lighthouse, a secluded and lovely wooded campground, and wonderful, soft, winding trails, all nestled along a steep cliff, overhanging a gorgeous windswept beach. It was the perfect place to get away, and, in a fit of good timing, we hit the southern Oregon coast for a spate of amazingly and unusually good weather. It was a bit chilly, but completely clear when we arrived. We were later to learn that the wind is hardly ever as calm as it was during our stay, and the beautiful sunshine was a welcome friend as we explored the lighthouse and those marvelous trails. Some other time we'd like to go back to see the other face of Cape Blanco weather--we hear the storms are thrilling and powerful, and quite the ride when you are in a tent--but for this first visit we were glad to have summer as our companion.

Cape Blanco's lighthouse was built circa 1870, so it was fun to wander the grounds and climb to the top of the tower. (Most things in Oregon are not nearly that old, unless you are counting trees.) Our $2 tour was well worth the price of admission. We learned a lot about how lighthouses have been operated over the years, and heard some fascinating tales of family life and self-sufficiency at the remote Cape Blanco. One little tidbit of interest from the tour was particularly strange to my ears at first. Did you know that it was crucially important to keep everything immaculately clean in an oil-lamp burning lighthouse? Well, it was. That's not the odd part. Lighthouse lights do have to shine after all. That's rather the point. Most of the keeper's job was polishing and sparkling lenses and such, and the Light-House Service had exceedingly high standards, inspecting the building regularly for due diligence. What struck me funny was the degree to which they took this inspection. Cleanliness was so critically important that even the keeper's wife came in for her share of company high standards. When the inspectors came to make sure everything about the place was ship-shape, they also headed over to the family's personal quarters. If they found even one unwashed dish lying about the place the keeper got the boot, on the theory that if his wife didn't keep a clean kitchen, he probably didn't keep a clean lighthouse. Boy, that's quite an elevation in the definition of wifely duty, especially when wifely duties also include growing the family's food, taking care of the livestock and home-schooling the children!

Of course, the wife was doing all this during the day, while her husband's job involved toiling through the night, making sure the light burned brightly to warn ships off the rocky Oregon coast. More than one man was required for the job--there were two assistants if I remember correctly--and once or twice the job wasn't just left to the menfolk. Here's a bit more Cape Blanco lighthouse history:

This isolated lighthouse holds at least four Oregon records: it is the oldest continuously operating light, the most westerly, it has the highest focal plane above the sea, (256 feet), and Oregon’s first woman keeper, Mabel E. Bretherton signed on in March 1903.

As I said, the tour was worth the minor ducats the current keepers charge for a look around, and the history lesson was very educational, as well as an exercise in personal gratitude. I am ever so grateful to have a husband who works days. I'm grateful that I don't have to sheer sheep. I'm grateful that I can go to Winco to get groceries. I'm grateful I have a dishwasher, and I'm very grateful that my husband has never lost his job because my kitchen sink had a dirty coffee cup in it...

What follows are some of the sights we saw, and a few descriptions and stories. I hope you enjoy them. (Click to enlarge.)

The first day, when Ked and I were there alone, we tooled around on our bikes and enjoyed the fabulous blue-and-gold day. We rode to the lighthouse and had a look around, although we saved the tour for our friends' arrival.

Here's the view from a trail near the lighthouse grounds. Kind of makes up for the "keep every dish spotless" thing.

This view is to the back of the lighthouse grounds. There is coastline on three sides of the lighthouse, so the whole thing is pretty spectacular. Ignore that goofy girl in the foreground...

Here's the lighthouse. That blue sky is quite the anomaly, so the tour guide informed us. It's a shame, because it really does make a beautiful picture.

Here's another view. We were guessing that big rock is 10 or 15 stories high, to give you some perspective.

The trail from our campsite to the lighthouse followed a high cliff. Looking down at one point we saw this display of Bug Love. Somebody likes the Ducks. A lot.

The cliff was quite high in places. That driftwood below is looking awfully toothpick-like, but really it was your standard large log driftwood pile. It just took another mile or so of walking before the logs proved their girth up close.

We found the cliff had a few weak spots. This section of ground had shifted a bit, making us wonder if someday we'd come back and there would be a little less cliff hanging up there--and a little less beach to go with it.

You can see there are some substantial logs down at beach level, and some pretty hefty rocks, too. Ked couldn't resist playing he-man and tossing a few of them around. Boys like to throw things, don't they?

I found this rock awfully interesting. It looked like someone had been out playing Paint That Rock, but I suspect that nature had a hand in this, not Miller.

The sun was still shining late in the afternoon when the rest of the gang showed up, but by the next morning things were looking to change. See that bank of clouds in the distance? They were making their way to shore, and were flying low. By the end of the next day we found ourselves in a pretty thick fog, which made for fun times on the beach.

While we headed off to show our friends the lighthouse, the clouds moved ever closer. Makes a pretty cool effect, don't you think?

As we walked, we came upon a mama deer and her babies. It was so neat. Mama saw us on the trail, but as long as we stayed still she kept right on coming, leading the wee ones in tow. She easily got within 20 feet of us before the three-year-old in our midst got too excited to keep the squirms inside, and then Mom bolted into the thicket. Her little ones followed by another route, and we had some entertainment, watching as they went about the business of re-connecting. We felt sorry for them all, actually, because the bushes were very thick and they were bouncing about in them, trying to travel and stay hidden at the same time. They must have been poked something awful in the process.

Here are the twins. Cute little things. I'd never seen deer that young before out and about in the world. It was fun.

Mama kept her ears perked while she listened for her babes, and any sign of pursuit.

We managed to catch another glimpse of one of the fawns in the thicket. It's so cute. I just know it's sitting there thinking, "You can't see me, right?" Silly fawn doesn't know about telephoto lenses.

As the fog rolled in, those distant rocks looked more and more ghostly.

Is this a Hallmark card, or what? Brother and sister in perfect harmony--as long as this isn't a video blog!! (Really, though, the kids were great. There aren't many kids that would have been that much fun to hang with for three days, and I'm not just saying that because I want their parents to read this.)

Here are Dad and Mom--the kids' dad and mom, that is. I don't call them Dad and Mom. Except here, just now. (Come to think of it, I'm not that far from being old enough to be their mom--Dad and Mom's mom, that is, not the kids. Wait, did that come out right? Oh, never mind.)

The sunny day made it seem natural, somehow, to wear a flower in my hair. I like flowers, but posting the picture? That's for the guy reflected in the sunglasses who took it. He likes flowers, too.

Isn't this a pretty place? I want to get in a kayak and paddle out to those rocks, just to see what's out there. Maybe there's a cave, full of pirate treasure... Hmm, a cave full of pirate treasure off the coast of chilly Oregon in a place that regularly sees 70 mph winds? Doesn't seem likely, unless the pirates had consumed an altogether unimaginable quantity of rum. Might find a few sea lions, though.

Eventually we got to go inside the lighthouse. The climb up to the lantern room involves 63 stairs, and a ladder at the end. The kids were okay going up, but coming down proved a little more problematic. By some regulation or another, even the three-year-old had to climb down absolutely unaided, no being carried allowed. For a little while we thought we might have to move in and be the next keepers of the light, because that first step was a pretty hard sell.

Going up, though, was all fun and games.

Here's one part of the lens structure, a very complex and expensive set of glass pieces. The guide told us that some local boys had once broken in for fun and broken some of the pieces, causing (and I'm remembering loosely here) something in the tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage. (Ked says forty K.) He showed us one of the parts that had never been repaired. It still worked properly, so they didn't replace it, because of the expense. Despite the damage, the lens system was very impressive, and downright pretty, as well.

Being up in the tower was cool. You could see how the view could be nothing short of spectacular on the right day. The right day, however, would have been the day before, since by this time those clouds were making their way to shore in earnest, and we lost a good deal of the view in the process. It was still impressive, though, and the lens itself was worth the climb.

This is the thousand watt light bulb that signals ships to take care these days. It's not quite as romantic as a giant oil lantern, but a heck of a lot easier to keep clean. Now workers can give their full attention to making sure their coffee cups are in order.

Our friends had decided that the nice safe sand was the perfect place to teach their son to ride a bike, so we all rode down to the beach, and with the fog fully to shore, we peddled around near the waves. (Yes, we did thoroughly rinse the salt and sand off afterward.) Dad was ready and waiting for his son to get in the spirit of the occasion.

The boy was a tad reluctant to embrace the plan. After the first abortive attempt at riding a bike with no training wheels, he found a sudden fascination for walking in circles.

A father-son chat introduced the child to a new way of looking at things. Way to communicate, guys!!

Soon, our boy was happily peddling away, with a big grin and a good attitude. Once he found out that falling didn't hurt, he went for it with gusto. That kid really did learn to ride his bike that day, in about 15 minutes time, once he got over being afraid. It was fun to see the transformation. The beach turned out to be a very good place for this particular lesson.

So, that's that. I could have shown you lots more, but I figured 30 pictures would be enough to satisfy the curiosity of anyone who was actually interested, and enough to try the patience of anyone who wasn't. Then again, anyone who wasn't would have bailed long ago, so how about another 30?!!
Just kidding. Even I'm not that interested, but I am more cheerful now than when I started, and since that was the point from my end, I consider this outing a success. Thanks for coming with.